Can An App Help Solve Philly's Violent Crime Surge?

(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

There’s no question that violent crime in Philadelphia is out of control. There were nearly 499 homicides in the city last year, and there have already been 90 murders in 2021. The question is what to do about it, and so far officials like Mayor Jim Kenney, District Attorney Larry Krasner, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw haven’t offered any real solutions. Instead, they’ve demanded more gun control laws be enacted in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., hoping that by casting a wide net of restrictions on legal gun owners they might entrap a few criminals as well.

A pair of Philadelphians, however, have another idea to address and stop the shootings that are all too common on the city’s streets; an app that can pair those at risk for committing an act of violence (or being the victim of one) with mediators trained to de-escalate conflicts.

“We want to give the community the platform to ask for help, but also give the community the opportunity to be that help,” says Mazee Casher, a hip hop artist and co-creator of the Philly Truce app.

The mobile phone app provides two way communication similar to Uber and Lyft. It allows Philadelphia residents to call for a mediator to help quash a beef before guns are drawn.

“This is not 911,” says Casher. “We can respond quickly, but we are putting people in the frame of mind: As soon as you know something, let us know.”

Casher came up with the idea alongside his William Penn High School class of 1992 classmate Steve Pickens, a Philadelphia firefighter. The two were tired of watching the gun violence plaguing the city on television and social media.

“We wanted to do something about these shootings,” says Pickens. “We wanted to do our part, so we came together and said, ‘It’s our time to be leaders.'”

Rather than adopting some utopian (or dystopian) mindset of trying to rid Philadelphia of every gun out there, Casher and Pickens are trying to come up with a strategy that works in the real world. The goal isn’t to ban guns, but to stop the shootings.

We’re trying to help overcome the culture of ‘We don’t talk to police,'” says Casher. “So, we not the police, and we are not affiliated with the police. We are your brothers and sisters who want to see youth live to the age of good decision making.”

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson says he supports the effort behind the app.

“These mediators will intervene in the social media beefs, the neighborhood beefs, before they escalate,” says Johnson, chair of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention.

Johnson says he is open to ideas that provide a community solution to gun violence.

I’ve increasingly started to view “gun violence prevention” and “gun control” as two separate movements that have two very different goals, though there’s undoubtably overlap in membership. Those organizations and entities that are focused on stopping violence are increasingly looking for solutions that don’t involve more policing or new laws; instead directing their efforts at the relatively few individuals who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime.

Gun control groups, on the other hand, demand more gun control laws, which in turn requires more policing and has the net result of putting more people in prison for non-violent, possessory firearm offenses.

Some violence prevention strategies like Project Ceasefire do have a role for law enforcement, but even then the targeted deterrence strategy typically leads to fewer arrests overall while dramatically reducing the violence in targeted neighborhoods and communities. Other tactics like the PhillyTruce app are more focused on using the community itself to deter violent acts without the need for police involvement, in large part because they recognize that many witnesses to crimes are reluctant to talk to the police. In some cases the victim may be violating the code of the streets by cooperating with police and prosecutors, but there are also plenty of witnesses afraid to come forward because of their justified concerns about retaliation and a sense that the criminal justice system will quickly return offenders to their neighborhoods even if those witnesses testify in open court.

I believe that the PhillyTruce app has a far better chance of reducing violence than any new gun control measures that would be inflicted on legal gun owners in Pennsylvania, and I hope that when the app officially launches on May 1st that it will be used by its intended audience. Kudos to Mazee Casher and Steve Pickens for thinking outside of the box in coming up with their app. I have no idea what their personal thoughts on the Second Amendment might be, but their crime fighting strategy has the potential to quell the violence without the false promise of security offered by the gun control movement and anti-gun politicians.

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